Luther (2003 film)

Luther is a 2003 American-German epic historical drama film loosely based on the life of Martin Luther starring Joseph Fiennes. It was an independent film partially funded by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. The film covers Luther's life from his becoming a monk in 1505 to the Diet of Augsburg in 1530.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byEric Till & Marc Canosa
Produced byBrigitte Rochow
Christian P. Stehr
Alexander Thies
Written byCamille Thomasson
Bart Gavigan
StarringJoseph Fiennes
Alfred Molina
Jonathan Firth
Claire Cox
Peter Ustinov
Music byRichard Harvey
CinematographyRobert Fraisse
Distributed byR.S.
Release date
26 September 2003 (2003-09-26)
Running time
124 minutes
Budget$31 million
Box office$29,413,900


The film begins during a thunderstorm in 1505, as Luther is returning to his home. For fear of losing his life in the storm, Luther commits his life to God and becomes an Augustinian monk.

Two years later, Luther is a monk at St. Augustine's Monastery in Erfurt. During his time at the monastery, he is constantly troubled by viewing God as a God of hate and vengeance. Martin is encouraged by Johann von Staupitz, an elder monk who is his supervisor and mentor. Staupitz tells Luther to look to Christ instead of himself.

Later, Luther delivers a letter for Staupitz to Rome, where he becomes troubled by the wicked lifestyles of those in the city. He also views the skull believed to be that of John the Baptist and purchases an indulgence. It is during this time that Luther begins to question the veracity of indulgences. Returning to Germany, Luther is sent to Wittenberg, where he begins to teach his congregation that God is not a God of hate, but a God of love. Luther begins to emphasize the love of God instead of his judgment.

In 1513, Pope Leo X becomes the new Pope of the Church, and commissions Johann Tetzel to go throughout several communities, including Luther's town, where he scares people into buying indulgences, which would be used to rebuild and renovate St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and to recover the Hohenzollern bribes to the Holy See, advanced by Fugger, for the investiture of Archbishop Albert of Mainz and Magdeburg). In his church, Luther denounces the indulgences, calling them "just a piece of paper". He then posts his 95 theses on the door of the church, calling for an open debate regarding the indulgences. For this act, Luther is called to Augsburg, where he is questioned by church officials.

After his excommunication, Pope Leo X orders Luther to be delivered to Rome, but Prince-elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony protects him by moving him into Wartburg Castle. Frederick and Charles V decide that Luther will be tried at the diet of Worms.

At Worms, Luther was brought before Charles V and the Cardinals for trial. The Cardinals demand for him to recant of his teachings, and Luther requested for more time to give a decent answer, which was granted. The next day, Luther came before Charles V and the Cardinals, who demanded him to recant, and Luther refused. After his trial at Worms, Luther is forced into hiding by Frederick the Wise at Wartburg, while his former professor, Andreas Karlstadt, encourages the Great Peasants' Revolt against the oppressive nobles. Luther, shocked by the revolts, encourages the princes to put them down. Meanwhile, Luther translates the Bible into German.

After Luther marries Katharina von Bora, a former nun, Charles V summons the evangelical Princes of the Holy Roman Empire to the Diet of Augsburg, so he can force them to outlaw Protestantism and the German Bible. The nobles refuse, and Charles is forced to allow the nobles to read their Augsburg Confession.

The film ends with the following words:

What happened at Augsburg pushed open the door of religious freedom. Martin Luther lived for another 16 years, preaching and teaching the Word. He and Katharina von Bora enjoyed a happy marriage and six children. Luther's influence extended into economics, politics, education and music, and his translation of the Bible became a foundation stone of the German language.

Today over 540 million people worship in churches inspired by his Reformation.

Film inaccuracies

  • In the film, Luther refers to Bible passages by the book, chapter, and verse. However, the Bible was not divided into verses until 1551, and even then the divisions were not ubiquitous until the Geneva Bible. (It can be assumed that this was done in order that discerning viewers might easily locate the text to which Luther refers.)[2]
  • Albert of Mainz is described as being archbishop of two German territories before acquiring Mainz. In real life, he was Prince-Archbishop of Magdeburg and Prince-Bishop of Halberstadt, prior to gaining Mainz.
  • During the Augsburg Confession scene, all of the nobles, including the elector princes, stood up to Charles V. In real life, most of the princes were still Catholic. Only one (or maybe two) of the seven electors should have made a stand, Duke of Saxony and the somewhat conciliant Louis V, Elector Palatine. Three other electors were Catholic archbishops, e.g. Albert of Mainz, and two more secular electors sided with the Catholics, the King of Bohemia, Charles' brother Ferdinand, and Joachim Nestor of Brandenburg, Albert's brother. After the Elector of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, the staunchest opposition came from Georg [the Pious], Prince-Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach.
  • The film stated that Luther and Spalatin went to law school together. In reality, they did not meet until much later.
  • The film implies that Frederick of Saxony is given the Golden Rose as a bribe, to coerce him into delivering Luther to Rome. In real life, he was awarded the rose before, most likely to make him run for emperorship against Charles.
  • Aleander addresses Cajetan as cardinal in his first appearance, which apparently takes place shortly after the papal conclave that elected Leo X in 1513. In reality, Cajetan did not become a cardinal until four years later.
  • The film regularly portrays congregants seated in pews. In reality, pews were not a common church fixture until after the Reformation.[3]
  • Andreas Karlstadt is herein depicted as radically distorting Luther's views while Luther is in seclusion at Wartburg, insisting on being addressed as "Brother Andreas." Though the reforms which were actually orchestrated by Karlstadt were more peaceful, they were too radical for Luther (including vernacularization of the Mass), and Luther began to undo or slow them. Karlstadt also did not renounce his title of professor until after Luther's return.
  • In the film, Luther returns to visit Wittenberg incognito (at the urging of George Spalatin) with a modest growth of beard and under the title "Knight George." Luther actually had grown a beard "sufficient to deceive his mother" and under the name "Junker George," which means "Knight George" [Roland H. Bainton, "Here I Stand", pp. 194, 205]
  • Shortly before Prince Frederick convinces Charles to give Luther a hearing at the Diet of Worms, the Emperor introduces Aleander to him as a "new cardinal", and Aleander's dress supports this. Aleander would in fact not become a cardinal for another 15 years.
  • It is implied in the film that Luther and Katharina married shortly after the death of Pope Leo X. In reality Leo died over a year before Luther and Katharina had even met.
  • At the end of the movie, Luther goes to the study of Duke Frederick with a 'birthday gift.' He hands the duke a copy of the New Testament in German. There is no historical evidence that Duke Frederick and Martin Luther ever met and spoke face to face.

Cast and crew

Actor Role
Joseph Fiennes Martin Luther
Alfred Molina Johann Tetzel
Jonathan Firth Girolamo Aleander
Claire Cox Katharina von Bora
Sir Peter Ustinov Frederick the Wise
Bruno Ganz Johann von Staupitz
Uwe Ochsenknecht Pope Leo X
Mathieu Carrière Cardinal Cajetan
Benjamin Sadler Spalatin
Jochen Horst Professor Karlstadt
Torben Liebrecht Charles V
Maria Simon Hanna
Lars Rudolph Melanchthon
Marco Hofschneider Ulrick
Christopher Buchholz von der Eck
Timothy Peach Karl von Miltitz
Tom Strauss George of Brandenburg
Gene Reed John of Saxony
Anian Zollner Philip of Hesse
Johannes Lang Albert Archbishop of Mainz
Jeff Boyd Prior
Jeff Caster Matthew
Hussi Kutlucan Blacksmith
Michael Traynor Hans Luther
Joost Siedhoff Old Monk
Anatole Taubman Otto
Lena Krimmel Teresa
Doris Prusova Grete
Jindrich Fajst Thomas
Robert Russell Gravedigger
Felix Klare Student 1
Florian Panzner Student 2
Jens Winter Fugger auditor
Alexander Kendzia Dominican friar 1
Cesare Cremonini Dominican friar 2
Martino d'Amico Dominican friar 3
James Babson Dominican friar 4
Franco Mirabella Vatican monk
Maurizio Luca Hawker
Carlos Valles Elderly monk
Thomas Dehler Tradesman
Jan Nemejovsky Albert's secretary
Jiri Maria Sieber Executioner
Martin Faltyn Carmelite monk
Herb Andress Gunter
Jirina Mencakova Ex-nun
Mathias Engel Common man 1
Ekkehard Schwarz Common man 2
Oliver McGillick Kid
Jaroslav Novotny Kaspar Sturm


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